Vi passed gently on June 27 surrounded by caregivers and her good friend Marilyn. In the background Vera Lynn was singing White Cliffs of Dover while goldfinches looked in from their feeder just outside her window.
Born in Toronto October 17, 1919 to Edith and Harold Milstead, Vi had on brother Fred. All have predeceased her.
As a young teenager Vi wanted to be a surgeon, but when her mother opened a wool shop, Vi was taken out of school, thus ending that dream. In the meantime Vi set her sights on aviation. Vi helped out in her mother’s shop, saving all of her earnings to pay for flying lessons. When she began flying lessons, her instructor had a film made, Let’s Learn To Fly, starring Vi. No doubt he chose Vi to demonstrate that “even girls can learn to fly”. Soon after she completed her Private Pilot License, her mother sold the wool shop and Vi lost her income source. So she started her own business to earn money to pay for her commercial lessons.
Within the next 10 years, besides owning and operating a business in north Toronto, Vi taught others to fly at Barker Field. When civilian flying ceased during WW II, Vi joined the Air Transport Auxiliary in England, delivering airplanes from factories to military bases. With the ATA Vi logged over 600 hours on 47 different types of aircraft, 74 if we count different marks. As a First Officer, she was qualified on all but the four engine planes. After the war, Vi instructed again at Barker Field. One of the highlights of this time was flying 1946 Miss Canada to Washington to invite the President of the United States to Toronto for Canada’s first international air show. While at Barker Field Vi met Arnold, the man she later married. They moved to Sudbury, instructing and flying as bush pilots. They also worked stints at the Windsor Flying Club, and then on the Sagamo on Muskoka Lakes before moving to Indonesia where Arnold taught flying. Though officials gave Vi a piece of paper allowing her to fly in Indonesia, they would not hire a woman as an instructor.
Once Arnold completed the terms of his contract, they returned to Canada where they found more lucrative employment, Arnold at a community college and Vi as a librarian at Orenda and the then Ontario Water Commission. They continued to fly recreationally after retirement, between the Magdalen Isands and Colborne.
Vi was active in several Colborne organizations such as Inner Wheel (Rotary), Second Helpings, Meals on Wheels and volunteering in the elementary school. Some of the Rotary exchange students continue to keep in touch with Vi. Vi was a gracious hostess, warmly welcoming guests and wanting them to be comfortable. Vi deeply missed Arnold after his death in June, 2000, but she welcomed new friends in her life, particularly Marian Carter. They enjoyed wonderful times together until Marian’s passing.
Vi has received many awards for her flying career and her community work, including an Amelia Earhart Medal, a Paul Harris Medal, the Rusty Blakely Memorial award, an Order of Canada, a Diamond Jubilee Medal and induction into Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame.
Vi knew how she wanted to live her life and could be feisty if she sensed other people’s plans interfered with hers.
Her wish to stay at home with her dog, in her beautiful log house was possible because of the loving care of a wonderful team of caregivers, as well as the St. Elizabeth personal support workers, nurses and others who attended to Vi’s personal needs. Neighbours, relatives and friends visited, often bringing some of Vi’s favourite food, a book, articles or photos. Visits usually included stimulating conversation over a glass of sherry.
Vi will be deeply missed and fondly remembered by several nieces and nephews and their families, Arnold’s three daughters and their families, as well as neighbours and friends. This tiny woman will leave a huge hole in our lives!
There will be a celebration of Vi’s life on Saturday, July 5th at 1:30 p.m. with visitation starting at 12:30 at MacCoubrey Funeral Home, Colborne. Following the service all are invited to a reception at the Colborne United Church.
Memorial donations are welcome for the Vi Milstead and Arnold Warren Flight Training Scholarship Fund, the David Suzuki Foundation or a charity of your choice. Condolences received at www.MacCoubrey.com.